Providers In Good Shape to Fight Flu

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates that as many as 132 million doses of injectable or spray vaccine will have been made available by January, 12 million more than during the 2006-07 flu season.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates that as many as 132 million doses of injectable or spray vaccine will have been made available by January, 12 million more than during the 2006-07 flu season. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

With a record amount of flu vaccine expected nationally this year, mass immunization programs will begin as early as next week in doctor's offices, clinics, stores and senior centers across the Washington area.

Many providers have sizable inventories to start prepping for the influenza season, a welcome change from the disruptions and delays that caused public confusion, shortages and long lines in recent years.

"It's wonderful," said Rachel Lynch, program manager for prevention with Inova HealthSource, which will oversee nearly 80,000 shots in Northern Virginia in the fall and winter. "We've probably gotten one-third to one-half of our order."

Ample supplies and stable, efficient distribution are just what health officials need to significantly boost immunization rates. At a news conference yesterday, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded hopeful that the message would get out.

"We have more manufacturers, more doses, more choices of vaccine than we've ever had," Director Julie L. Gerberding said.

The CDC anticipates that as many as 132 million doses of injectable or spray vaccine will have been made available by January, 12 million more than during the 2006-07 flu season.

But health experts continue to battle what one official yesterday called "a prevention gap." Despite the virus's annual toll -- including 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the United States -- public response lags. Nearly 15 percent of last winter's supply went unused and had to be discarded, according to the CDC. The latest agency statistics indicate that only a fifth of young children, and less than a third of adults up to age 49 with medical conditions, may be getting fully immunized, putting them at higher risk.

Among health-care workers, who are strongly encouraged to roll up their sleeves for vaccine shots, just 40 percent historically do so.

Officials called such rates troubling and "unconscionable."

"It is critical that we use all of these doses to protect as many people as possible," said Ardis D. Hoven, an infectious disease specialist and trustee of the American Medical Association.

Locally, the mobilization has begun.

"I'm looking at two large boards on my wall that are covered with [schedules of] flu clinics," said Mark Noble, vice president of operations for Passport Health in Silver Spring, which has vaccine in store. His office will conduct more than 100 clinics in corporate settings, churches and schools by late December.

Anne Arundel County, which administered more than 35,000 doses last winter, has planned its first clinic for Oct. 17. By this morning, a full schedule should be posted at http://www.aahealth.org. Its health department is ready, having received 60 percent of the shots ordered.

"Last year, at this time, we had 30 percent in," said spokeswoman Elin Jones. "It's a big difference."

Physicians in private practice also report supplies. The two offices of Manassas Pediatrics have gotten about a third of the 2,400 doses they expect to dispense starting mid-October, with additional shipments promised soon. "Everyone's going to be anxious because of what's happened in the past," office manager Gloria Pino said.

Public vaccination clinics in the District will get underway within weeks. In the meantime, officials have plastered 440 Metrorail cars with posters urging riders to "cover your cough" as another prevention strategy.

Influenza, which poses the most danger to the very young, very old and individuals with serious chronic diseases, causes such symptoms as fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat and muscle ache. The flu season generally peaks in February.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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